Public Discourse and Public Policy on Foreign Interference in Higher Education


  • Kyle Long
  • Carly O’Connell



foreign interference, foreign influence, sharp power, authoritarianism, censorship, espionage, China Initiative, propaganda


In recent years, news media have increased reporting about alleged foreign interference in universities worldwide. A flurry of new policies has followed. This article reviews discourse and policy on foreign interference in higher education in select countries. It identifies the alleged perpetrators and victims, the victims’ concerns and responses, and the voices shaping the narrative about foreign interference. We combine the concepts of sharp power and right-wing authoritarianism to inform a discourse analysis and comparative policy analysis of a data set of 161 news articles and related media sources spanning a 30-month period of 2019-2021. Our findings highlight how government actors within the United States and Australia drive the international English-language discourse about Chinese foreign interference in a polarized media environment. We observe well-founded fears of China’s exploitation of international students and research collaborations to the detriment of national security. At the same time, a resurgent worldwide authoritarian movement is also exploiting these concerns to augment long-standing assaults on higher education. Our study helps to bridge the gap between the primarily positive framing of the internationalization of higher education in scholarly discourse and the negative focus on foreign interference in higher education in the media, government, and other public discourse. It also serves as an important introduction to this phenomenon and call to action for scholars of the internationalization of higher education to conduct further research and actively engage in the broader discourse around this topic.


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How to Cite

Long, K., & O’Connell, C. (2022). Public Discourse and Public Policy on Foreign Interference in Higher Education. Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education, 14(5), 15–42.



Winter 2022 Special Issue